North: The KTM Summer of Adventure – 9: Whitehorse and Kluane National Park

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Is it incongruous that the friendliest, most helpful, warm, and kind dealership experience has required me to travel well over 2500km to Whitehorse, YT? Whitehorse Honda is the local KTM dealer, and frankly I’ve never had a dealership this genuine and helpful. Period. Full stop.

I haven’t called ahead. I hadn’t ordered fresh rubber. Yet yesterday on rolling into town, all that was required to sort a fresh Pirelli Scorpion A/T rear tire for the 990 Adventure was a friendly conversation a couple quick calls to KTM to sort payment. This morning the bike is sorted in under a half hour, no hassle or fuss. It’s not just the dealership though; the entire Yukon has been hugely hospitable so far.

My Vancouver sensibilities are caught off guard by people saying “Hi” on the streets of Whitehorse.  Likewise at casual conversation struck up while shopping for fresh disposable socks and undies at the Walmart.  Periodically the bike provides an entry into conversation with, “What is that?”

That hospitality has been extended hugely by Tourism Yukon.  Today is a “rest” day, well from riding at least.  After sorting the tire we’re off to Kluane National Park to the West of Whitehorse.  On the drive out there are laser-straight roads and gently rolling almost water-sculpted scenery.

That’s for good reason; large portions of this road are actually ancient lakebed.  Surges of the Lowell Glacier once blocked the Alsek River near Goatherd Mountain with a dam of ice, creating glacial lakes extending over Haines Junction’s current location.

The most recent was Lake Alsek, which drained over the course of two days in approximately 1850 after the ice dam broke.  It’s near impossible to imagine change on such a massive scale in such a short time. 

Kluane Park is fringed by a wildlife sanctuary both it and the park are an irony of sorts.  One park interpreter explains that most of the wildlife exists only at the lower fringes of the park while the park itself consists mostly of near fauna-free glaciers and mountain ranges.

“There are animals that skirt in and out of the park, but most of Kluane’s wildlife ends up in a area fringing the highway.”  

The highlight of the day is Kathleen Lake as seen from the water on a Kruda Ché Boat Tour.  The water is choppy heading up-lake. “Like bad potholes.”, jokes our guide Ron Chambers.  Ron’s the third generation of his family to reside in the Yukon, the lake is named after his Grandmother, so he has every right to know it well.

“It will be smoother coming back down.  Like an entirely different lake.”  After we power northwards and hang-about, he’s entirely right.  The chop settles, Ron opens the rolls open the boat’s plastic front and leeward side and we idle between scenic stops.  The lake is bracketed by the steep slopes of young mountains; verdant green hillsides, snow crowned peaks, and landslides so treacherous even mountain goats have perished in slides of scree they’ve set in motion.

Katherine Lake’s scenery is as awesome as I’ve ever scene in the Rockies, but without the cellophane wrapped protectionism of the Banff-Jasper parkway or the prepackaged commercialism of sites like Yellowstone in the US.  There are no bleachers to watch old faithful here.

Then it occurs to me, “How many people do you take on this tour a year?”

Ron doesn’t know off hand, but some quick math tops it out in the low hundreds.  That makes this viewing of Kathleen Lake a rare and special thing. I feel honored that Ron has shared his lake and his family history with us; I wonder how many of the Princess-Cruises-motor-coach-tour set see this as a significant stop?  Are the sights of Kathleen Lake just another barrage of scenery and history to check off the list, or is there a realization that these may be the rarest sights of their lives?

For me it’s a reminder to take time away from the bike to see more than the roadside attractions.
Thanks to:
KTM: http://www.ktm.com/KTM-com-Ready-to-Race.1.4.html 
Alpinestars: http://www.alpinestars.com 
Tourism Yukon: http://travelyukon.com

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